Years ago I watched a programme about prostitution.

What fascinated me was the part about kerb crawling around Kings Cross/St Pancras area.

It was then a very seedy, run down part of London.

Lots of local ‘hotels’ had signs in the windows reading “ROOMS AVAILABLE BY THE HOUR”.

So, obviously not for tired businessmen looking for a night’s rest.

Apparently, the area was the hub for kerb crawling: cars driving slowly along with the nearside window open, while the driver asks the women how much for sex.

Most of the women standing around late at night were prostitutes of course.

They were there for the cars, who were there for the women.

So, basic supply and demand in action.

But why the Kings Cross area particularly, why not Soho?

After all, Soho was the traditional red-light district, all Kings Cross area had was two big, ugly stations.

But apparently Kings Cross was more popular precisely because of the railway connection.

The prostitutes didn’t live in London, they didn’t want to live there.

They came down from midlands or the north to earn some money, then went straight back home.

This way they could do it: a) without the neighbours knowing and b) in a place with a lot more customers.

So the supply of customers created a demand for prostitutes, and the supply of prostitutes created more customers.

Then the supply of both needing somewhere to go created a demand for rooms to rent by the hour.

All of which benefitted local hotels, cafes, and pubs.

Basic supply-side, trickledown economics.

But what made it interesting for me was the matter-of-fact way the prostitutes talked about it.

It was a trade like any other, so there was advice and tips like any trade.

Bits of knowledge to be handed on.

One of these tips was seen as essential by all the women.

They all said, when you’d agreed a price through the open car window, you needed to check the door as you opened it.

Before you get into the car just check there is a door handle on the inside.

If it’s been removed, don’t get into the car.

Because if there’s no handle, there’s no way to get out.

This was in the days of the Yorkshire Ripper.

Women would apparently get into his car then, when he attacked them with a hammer or a sharpened screwdriver, they couldn’t get out because he’d removed the door handle.

So these women were adamant that checking for an inside door handle was one of the tips of the trade.

I found it interesting the way they were so matter-of-fact about passing on a tip like that.

Not in a horrified life-or-death way just a handy, helpful hint.

From one worker to another.

Whatever job we’re in, we normalise it and offer advice to newcomers.

Just to be a bit more friendly, a bit more welcoming.

Just to make them feel they’re not on their own.

Whatever situation we’re in that’s what we do.

That’s something that, below all the differences, all human being have in common.


I think that’s one of Bill Bernbach’s “simple, timeless, human truths”.








  1. Yes Dave. At Saatchi it used to be ‘Less is best’ and ‘If you say it don’t show it. If you show it don’t say it’ at BBDO it used to be ‘The work, the work, the work’ At Facebook now, according to some reports, apparently it seems to be ‘Lets get you depressed, then we can sell you something you never even needed before you knew me.’

  2. These are also human defence mechanisms to help us to deal with the unpalatable truths of reality such as: everybody is not equal, reductionism to fool everyone into thinking and believing they are all part of the same unequal team, giving economic strategies for insatiable greed a ‘friendly name’s to make the poor feel grateful for the little they get, making the unacceptable acceptable. I don’t know whether in Bernbach’s time whether social norms were more acceptable or whether everyone was just a bit more native but the question of moral accountability, especially in the advertising industry is still pushed under the carpet like “Deadly Weapons” starring Chest Morgan ( a Hollywood B movie, so bad, both my teenage friend and myself left the cinema after the first ten minutes.

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